Neto's Tucson: Veteran incarcerated in Eloy fights deportation

2013-01-13T00:00:00Z Neto's Tucson: Veteran incarcerated in Eloy fights deportationErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

John Ferron came home from Vietnam more than 35 years ago.

But he's still fighting, this time with Tucsonan Marjorie King by his side.

Ferron, who was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1977, is incarcerated at the Eloy immigration detention facility, facing deportation to his native Jamaica. He has been detained in Eloy for two years.

King, who didn't know Ferron until a year ago, is doing all she can to right what she sees as a travesty.

"He has no one," she said.

The two became acquainted when King and other volunteers from Casa Mariposa, a local support shelter for immigrants, sent Christmas cards to Eloy. She heard from Ferron and learned about his legal situation.

"I couldn't believe it," she said.

Ferron, 56 years old and the father of eight U.S.-born children, could be forced to return to a country he left when he was 14 years old.

He's not the only one. Perhaps thousands of U.S. military veterans have been deported or are facing deportation orders. A 1996 federal law stripped veterans of their legal residency if they are arrested. The list of crimes has been expanded since 2001, snaring an increasing number of foreign-born veterans.

They call themselves "banished veterans." One of them is Manuel Valenzuela of Colorado Springs, Colo. Valenzuela was a U.S. Marine from 1971 to 1977, and spent a year in Vietnam.

In early 2009, he received a letter from the Department of Homeland Security informing him that he would be deported. He had two previous misdemeanor arrests for resisting arrest, one 25 years earlier.

Months later his older brother Valente Valenzuela, a Vietnam Army veteran who like Manuel received a honorable discharge, received his deportation order. Valente, 64, had been arrested for domestic violence years before, said Manuel, 60.

"It's been a nightmare," said Manuel in a telephone interview.

The Valenzuela brothers, who came from Mexico as children, claim U.S. citizenship through their U.S.-born mother and are challenging their deportation orders.

They are engaged in a national campaign to overturn the law and prevent their deportation. The brothers, with a documentary film crew, will be in Tucson early next month and plan to talk to Ferron in Eloy.

King has visited Ferron several times. She has talked to lawyers about taking his case. So far she has found no takers. Too complicated, she's been told.

Ferron has a drug-related felony and also ran afoul of the military when he re-enlisted under someone else's name. His fraudulent re-enlistment, for which he served more than three years in prison, cost him his veteran's benefits, King said.

King is not arguing that Ferron is unaccountable for his drug charge. But she believes he should not be deported because he served honorably. And if he is deported, she said, he should remain eligible for his benefits, specifically medication for his stress disorder.

"The U.S. did not live up to its promise," said King.

Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at (520) 573-4187 or at netopjr@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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